Jose Fernandez outshines Clayton Kershaw, who makes history in his return
We didn't quite see vintage Kershaw on Friday night, but his Marlins counterpart was dominant
Preceding Friday night's Dodgers-Marlins game (MIA 4, LAD 1), this happened ...
.@Dodgers reinstate LHP Clayton Kershaw from DL.— MLBRosterMoves (@MLBRosterMoves) September 9, 2016
Indeed, Kershaw was making his first start since June 26, when he succumbed to a lower back injury. Prior to that injury, Kershaw had been authoring a season that was dominant even by his sky-scraping standards. However, given the length of his absence -- more than two months away from a big-league mound -- Kershaw, great as he is, wasn't exactly a known quantity on this night. Here's what he did:
3.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 5 K, 0 BB, 1 HR, 66 pitches/46 strikes
First, know that Kershaw's five strikeouts against no walks occasioned a bit of history ...
Clayton Kershaw is the first MLB pitcher ever to reach 150 strikeouts without walking 10.— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) September 10, 2016
Kershaw entered the night with 145 strikeouts against nine walks (eight unintentional), so this performance moved him into uncharted territory. For the season, his K/BB ratio now sits at 16.7, which would easily be an all-time record in the presence of a qualifying innings total.
At times, though, we didn't see vintage Kershaw. His fastball velocity was down a bit in the first inning, which is what you'd expect after a long layoff. His radar gun numbers eventually rebounded, though. What seemed most uncharacteristic was his spotty slider command. The first-inning home run he allowed to J.T. Realmuto was a slider that bordered on "cement mixer," and it was just the second time all year that Kershaw gave up a home run on a slide-piece. He also bounced a number of breaking balls early in the game.
That's a feel pitch, though, and it follows that Kershaw may not have that feel back just yet, especially with the adrenaline of a return to the major-league mound a likely factor and with his familiar battery-mate A.J. Ellis no longer around. No, it wasn't Kershaw as we've come to know him, but we didn't see any red flags. Also take it as a positive sign that Kershaw was quiet visibly resisting the idea of ending his night after just three frames.
In a baseball sense, though, the night belonged to Kershaw's counterpart, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. Here's what he did on Friday night to a Dodger lineup that's been one of the best in baseball against right-handed pitching ...
7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 14 K, 3 BB, 102 pitches/66 strikes
That's the third time this season that Fernandez has struck out 14 batters in a game. No other pitcher has done it more than once in 2016. That sterling effort lowered Fernandez's ERA for the year to 2.90 in 167 1/3 innings. Over that span, he's struck out 238 batters, or 34.8 percent of the hitters he's faced this season (a remarkable figure for any pitcher, let alone a starter).
On this night, the 24-year-old Miami ace topped out at 101 mph with his four-seam fastball, and averaged 98.0. Fernandez of course worked in his curve and changeup and induced 15 swings and misses on the night. As a result of Fernandez's efforts, the Marlins have pulled to within one game of .500, and they remain on the fringes of the NL wild-card race.
Coincidentally, Kershaw entered the night as the active career leader in ERA with a mark of 2.39. While most such lists have a 1,000-inning cutoff, Fernandez's career ERA of 2.62 would rank second. The former was understandably the story going into Friday night's clash of aces, but the latter -- Fernandez -- was the story by the time the game was over.
More to come from these two -- for years to come, one hopes.
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